Editorial: Inside denial
Is our timidity emboldening the creationists?
Last year Richard Dawkins gave a very entertaining lecture, in which he dissected the Darwin-denying arguments of a book called Atlas of Creation that had been sent free to universities across Europe and the US, and advertised itself as the final proof that evolution never happened. With barely concealed scorn Dawkins highlighted the numerous errors in the book, which included confusing an eel with a snake, and dismissed its author, one Harun Yahya, as a charlatan and a fraud.
Though it was clear that the book hardly merited the attention of the eminent biologist it was all good fun and a chance to reveal the incoherent rantings of the evolution deniers for what they are. That might have been that, except that at the end Dawkins told us that since the article on which the lecture was based had been published online Harun Yahya had managed to have Dawkins’s website banned in Turkey, where Yahya’s creationist publishing enterprise is based. Dawkins had also heard that he was being sued for libel by Yahya, though he had received no official notice. Did anyone, Dawkins asked the audience, know of a Turkish lawyer who might be able to advise him?
The lecture left a series of questions unanswered: who was this man? How was he able to fund sending hundreds of copies of the expensively produced and very heavy Atlas around the world? And how, given the absurdity of his arguments, was he able to wield sufficient clout with the Turkish authorities to have the website of an important international figure banned? In the past year, during which Yahya seems to have become more visible as Muslim creationism appears on the rise, the questions have only intensified. We answer them in our exclusive expose, where, after months of investigation, including interviewing many of his victims, Halil Arda reveals the true story of Yahya’s rise, and the nefarious ways in which he has acquired money and influence.
But if you thought creationism was too farfetched to be taken seriously here in the UK, just take a day trip to Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Somerset. Paul Sims reports for us on his visit to this popular attraction. It’s full of surprises – like the claim that the earth is 100,000 years old and there were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark – and it’s equally surprising that it is endorsed by several public bodies.
It may seem astonishing that the idea of evolution is still being denied by creationists, despite the overwhelming evidence. But there are many other aspects of Darwin’s work that have yet to be explored and discussed. Also in this issue anthropologist Adam Kuper tells the fascinating tale of how Darwin’s anxieties about the inbreeding in his own family spurred him on to devise a unique research project on cousin marriage.
Events, dear boy
Darwin is also at the centre of the debate New Humanist is presenting as part of the Cambridge Film Festival on 20 September. Darwin, Denial and Documentary, a panel discussion featuring medical historian Louise Foxcroft, and Leonor Sierra of Sense about Science, will explore how accurately science is depicted on screen, in relation to several films showing in the festival including the Darwin-denial film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (which argues for “The freedom to legitimately challenge ‘Big Science’s’ orthodoxy”), and the big-budget Darwin biopic Creation (billed as the story of a man “caught in a battle between faith and reason, love and truth”). The panel will be chaired by me and is free, but pre-booking is essential.
And finally our rational Christmas celebration in science, humour and song, Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, returns to the London stage in December, bigger and better than ever. The latest line-up is here and includes an incredble array of comics, musicians and science types, from Richard Herring to Johnny Ball via Simon Singh, Barry Cryer, Alan Moore and John Otway . Tickets are already selling fast. Don’t miss it.